Kenneth Darby had heard all the numbers. Three; 1,000; 3,565. He knows that he has the opportunity to become the first runner in storied Alabama football history to have three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and to break the all-time Bama career rushing record of 3,565 yards.

But those numbers didn't inspire Kenneth Darby to eschew a National Football League opportunity to return for his fourth and final season at Alabama.

"I try not to pay too much attention to that," Darby said. "I know I can reach those numbers, and I want to do all I can to help the team. But I had already planned to come back even before I heard about that.

"The thing I haven't taken care of is beating Auburn. I know I'll be running into Auburn guys and I don't want to have never beaten them."

Auburn has a four-game winning streak over Alabama. The Tide and Tigers will close out regular season play on November 18 in Bryant-Denny Stadium (where Bama has never beaten Auburn).

Darby has another reason to return. He'll need only a few hours to earn his degree and will be graduated in December.

Darby has been working out and going to class this summer. "Football is pretty much year-round now," he said. Because he has afternoon classes he hasn't been able to take part in the seven-on-seven drills (pass skel). The 5-11 Darby is currently at about 220 pounds, but plans to start the season at 215.

Still, it is rigorous work. In discussion of missing wide receiver D.J. Hall, Darby said, "I know he's working out at home (in Fort Walton Beach, Florida), but probably not to the extent we are."

Also not working out this summer is wide receiver Tyrone Prothro. "I know he'd like to be out there working with us," Darby said.

Darby missed workout time last summer as he recuperated from off-season sports hernia surgery. This year he's counseled fellow running back Glen Coffee, Darby's back-up last year as a true freshman. Now Coffee is recuperating from surgery for a sports hernia, though not as serious a case as Darby's.

"I talk to Glen every day," Darby said. "He's doing a lot better than I did. I'd say he's two steps ahead of where I was. And he's going to be pretty good."

This time a year ago there were questions as to whether Darby would be able to play in 2005. He not only played, he was an All-Southeastern Conference selection as he rushed for 1,242 yards.

Coupled with his 1,062 yards as a sophomore in 2004, Darby could become the first man in Bama history to have three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. And if he can get 1,080 yards, he'll reach the Tide career record 3,565 yards gained by Shaun Alexander (1996-99). Alexander was last season's NFL Player of the Year.

Darby points out that he is not the only running weapon in the Crimson Tide arsenal. "Not to sound cocky, but I think we have one of the best backfields in not only the SEC, but in the nation," he said. "People know about me and (fullbacks LeRon McClain and Tim Castille), but there are some other good ones like Glen (Coffee) and Jimmy Johns and Roy Upchurch."

Does that competition keep Darby on his toes?

"I'm going to work hard regardless," he said. "I think that shows those young guys that it's not going to come easy. They have to reach hard for the goal. I think it makes us all better."

Alabama's past reliance on the running game coupled with the Tide having a new quarterback this year with John Parker Wilson poised to replace the graduated Brodie Croyle leads to the conclusion that the ground attack will be prominent in 2006. Wilson acknowledges that "having a great running back like KD takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback."

"I don't know what Coach Shula has planned," Darby said. "A lot of people are thinking we will run the ball all the time, but Coach Shula and Coach Rader (Offensive Coordinator David Rader) are the masterminds, so I don't know what we'll do just yet. They'll come up with the best plan."

There is no doubt that plan includes a heavy dose of Kenneth Darby.

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